Close your eyes for a moment and imagine Boomtown – a vast drug-fuelled sex-crazed weekend of wildness, high-octane music and youthful debauchery. Now imagine the polar opposite…that’s it, you’ve entered the peaceful bucolic alternative world of the Wealden Literary Festival. Take a deep breath and relax.
There’s room, of course, for all manner of festivals over the summer months and this pocket handkerchief-sized one is a beauty if you’re looking for tranquility, thought provoking discussions and, well, books. Sited in the lovely Boldshaves Garden near Tenterten in deepest darkest Kent, it’s a total antidote to the many hassles of everyday life.
Perhaps most importantly it feels like it’s put together – hippy alert – with love, which can’t be said of many festivals in my experience. For example, all of the stalls appeared handpicked for their crafts(wo)manship, beautiful products and right-on-ness, not least recycled spoon jewellery, wildflower seeds/planting, stained glass mobiles, forest and farm schools, local farm produce, basket weaving and carved wooden staffs.
The same can be said of the many talks and workshops, which were held in four or five open-sided tents. The talks included A life in Poetry with Andrew Motion, 31 Ways Artists Notice the World with Will Gompretz, Nomad Century: how to Survive the Climate Upheaval with Gaia Vince, Unprocessed: How the Food we Eat is Fuelling the Mental Health Crisis with Kimberley Wilson, My Heart was a Tree with festival patron Michael Morpurgo, and Exploring the Great Questions How to Live with A C Grayling. The workshops included The Flowerpot Forager, Sustainable Garden, Clothes Mending, Eating the Wild, Food Smoking, Pigment Making and a whole lot else. The majority of these talks and workshops were excellent and inspiring.
The age range of the punters as you might expect for a literary festival was primarily at the older end of things, but there was a reasonable smattering of twenty-somethings and tons of young children around. In fact the festival caters fantastically for kids, with all sorts of activities put on for them throughout the weekend, including hammering and making camps, climbing trees, Borka the Opera, nature trails, face painting, making stuff, and plenty more.
The camping field was stunning, with a huge amount of space available for tents amongst the roaming sheep, possibly because most people came along on a day basis. One reason for the latter no doubt is that there was doodle squat put on in the evening, which actually I enjoyed as it was great weather and such a beautiful setting that it was simply a pleasure to be still and absorb the peace and birdsong. Please note: if you’re after music and pumped-up excitement this festival definitely isn’t for you.
For such a small festival the food choices were good and reasonably priced, although – a hungry punter writes – irritatingly most had run out of food by the Sunday afternoon. The drink options were good and reasonably priced too. The loos were plentiful and clean, which is I suppose easier to achieve at a small festival but was nonetheless very welcome. One definite gripe is there were only two showers, which just isn’t enough, and this was made worse as one of them wasn’t working. At least it wasn’t when I was trying to use it.
To recap, this is not a festival if you’re looking for a wild time, but it very much is a festival if you’re looking for peace, stimulating talks and workshops, and – for an all too short couple of days – a general sense of all is well with the world. For more information visit: https://wealdenliteraryfestival.co.uk/
Published on 29 June 2023 by Neil del Strother